With a point and click interface, on June 19 a semi-autonomous drone was directed to identify targets on the UK Army’s Salisbury Plain test range by an operator onboard an Airbus Helicopters H125.
This demonstration of a manned-unmanned teaming (MUM-T) system was hailed as a first for the UK by QinetiQ, a Cardigan-based defence and security company. The firm referred to the drone as a small unmanned air system. The drone operated independently, searching for and identifying targets, only alerting the helicopter when a decision was needed. QinetiQ’s own software on a commercial tablet computer, combined with an Internet protocol (IP) mesh net radio, enabled the MUM-T capability without any serious modifications to the helicopter, which is also QinetiQ’s own.
“We’re particularly pleased we could undertake a live testing programme using one of our own H125 helicopters,” said QinetiQ’s program manager, Rob Scott. “We made full use of our live, virtual and simulated test environments as well as the facilities and resources available within our long-term partnering agreement with the MoD [Ministry of Defence].”
The system uses assisted target recognition that could provide a helicopter crew with extended range sensing to see a potential threat beyond that threat’s own possible sensor range. QinetiQ’s small unmanned air system has been designed to be stored on and operated from any air, land or naval platform.
The operators could look at images sent back by the drone’s cameras while the small unmanned air system operated independently. By using IP, anyone on the network can select drone sensor imagery or request control of any connected unmanned aircraft system.
The demonstration included the successful passing of control of the drone between different human operators. QinetiQ explained that being able to seamlessly move control of military equipment from one trusted party to another could allow countries to have a common pool of assets.